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service. She explains: “It was the first time we’d partnered with another authorit. It was a four-month programme and it was great to see people so engaged. Our archives were paired with Sheffield Archives’ to compare queer histories. We started an LGBT reading group, which will continue online-only, because we have people from around the country taking part [and would like it to remain accessible]. It was really successful and upped our profile. “We had people from Sheffield involved as well as people from Japan and the Caribbean; we had authors such as [Skunk Anansie singer] Skin involved too. We had family members from the Caribbean taking part, and oſten it was the first time they had spoken to relatives for a while so it was quite emotional. We did a writing competition too, using my and my colleague’s capacit as Carnegie judges [Dixon judged the prize in 2019 and 2020].” Dixon hopes the joint event will be one of many. “People want to replicate that model and do more joined-up working and partnership working,” she says.

Borrowing ideas

She believes that lockdown has seen libraries sharing ideas more—“we’ve done great stuff here but I see other libraries and think, ‘We should do that in Lambeth’”—and the council is now looking to physically partner with other London boroughs. And Dixon’s experience of lockdown event programming has shiſted her mindset more perma- nently. “It’s opened up the doors of what you can deliver,” she says. “It shows you that libraries, as well as being about books and the communit space... those spaces can be open. It’s made it more accessible to people with disabilities. It’s made us focus more on how we can make our content more accessible: we add subtitles to all our videos, we record all our events so they can be watched at a later date, and we’re thinking about having signers at our physical events. We want to be accessible by default, rather than being reactive.” While the service has extended its reach, she is mindful that many of its previous customers may still be struggling to access its online offer. “There’s a greater range of people we’ve engaged with geographically online, but the other side is maybe we’ve lost local people who don’t have online access. That’s why it’s important to have physical libraries. A lot of people can’t afford computers or an internet connection. It’s heartbreaking that we can’t help people all the time.”

Lambeth Libraries, which is still transitioning “gradu- ally” out of lockdown, will keep hybrid events at the heart of its programming. “Some reading groups have started meeting in-person but they’re also on Zoom. It’s about having a hybrid model—you don’t want to lose online relationships because we’ve spent a year building them up. We’ll definitely record events if we can’t stream them live.” Dixon emphasises that the digital innovation shown by libraries over lockdown needs financial investment to continue effectively. “One issue going forward is capacit. If we’re delivering a hybrid service, do you have capacit and resources for that? People don’t want things that are fuzzy or poor qualit,” she says. Dixon also feels that lockdown exposed problems with the e-book and audiobook borrowing model for libraries.


E-book and digital audio titles were added to Lambeth Libraries’ offer between April and July 2020, as physical libraries were closed in the first UK lockdown


“The licensing model is a bit strange and it would be beter if the model was of more benefit to public libraries... allowing simultaneous downloads could have stretched our download figures more. We don’t always get the new bestsellers straight away, or they’re very, very expensive. You’re spending hundreds of pounds to satisfy 100 reserves on one title because [the licensee] only allows you one user on one title. The limitations of the e-book and audiobook service for public libraries in this country over the past year became very apparent. Hopefully more books will be released in these formats—especially audio, which is seeing such a jump.”

The road back In terms of visitor numbers, Lambeth “still isn’t back to what it was before”, Dixon says, echoing other library services that spoke to The Bookseller. She adds: “We’re still only available by appointment, although that is changing soon. It’s geting busier and the next step will be to reintro- duce more activities in the library.” Ultimately, Dixon sees the service as stronger post- pandemic. “At Lambeth, we are in a good, strong position aſter lockdown. We are very well regarded in the council and we are in a good position now to be sustainable,” she says. “The reputation of Lambeth Libraries has always been good, but it’s improved so much over lockdown— especially in the council. We also have a closer relationship with different departments.” One issue she will continue to raise awareness of is the

importance of diversit in libraries, and Dixon did a lot of work to make titles by Black authors more visible aſter Black Lives Mater. “Sadly, there is a big lack of diversit in library workers in England: 97% of library workers identify as white,” she says. “It is a very big issue and it can have an impact on how you deliver a library service. You will have an unconscious bias; you will think if you don’t live in a diverse place that you don’t need diverse books. But you do. I’ve done a lot of work on this in the past year and I’ve been vocal about it.” Dixon is also looking at how the library can support other parts of the council aſter lockdown showed how the service caters to so many disadvantaged groups. “We are looking at how we can work beter with the homeless section of the council so we can support homeless people. We’re also looking at doing work on literacy and computer literacy so people have access to digital tech and more support.” she adds. “We’re always very, very busy.”

It’s important to have physical libraries. A lot of people can’t afford computers or an internet connection. It’s heartbreaking that we can’t help people all the time

Zoey Dixon, Lambeth Libraries 229

Digital titles were added between April and July 2019, when libraries were open to users


Of library workers identify as white, Dixon says


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